A day or so ago, Leonard Cohen’s death was announced on a trailer at the bottom of a newscast about Trump. It was not much notice for one of the finest artists of the last century.
I went online to find a few articles, New York Times and Rolling Stone mostly, but they didn’t tell me much that I didn’t know. I’m not going to add anything to his bio in this post. If you want to know about Leonard Cohen, listen to his songs.
To sum up, briefly and without equivocation, Leonard Cohen meant more to my moral and ethical life, more to my writing, and expressed my personal feelings better than any writer of fiction ever did.
I don’t mean that I learned about life from him. I learned about life from life, and a harsh one at that. I was fully formed when I discovered him, but he spoke to me. Leonard Cohen had the ability to say in music what I was trying to say in text. In almost every song, there was someplace where, the first time I heard it, I shouted, “Yes, dammit. Yes!”
I discovered Cohen when I was in college, in the sixties. Then I graduated, got drafted, spent four years working in a military hospital, went back for an MA, and in 1975, settled down to write novels. I wrote more or less full time for most of the following decade.
My wife would leave for work, and I would sit down at the typewriter with music on the stereo. At that time, I needed emotionally charged music to set the mood and drown out other sounds – today I could write through a hurricane. I wore the grooves deeper in a lot of LPs, and nothing played as often as Leonard Cohen.
HIs music was like a drug, compounded of depression and hope. It was rich, complex, filled with both thought and emotion, but it was an acquired taste. Except for Susanne and Hallelujah, not many people took to him. He doesn’t come easily; you have to listen with both ears and your whole heart.
Leonard Cohen’s music suffuses everything I have written. I never met him, outside of his records, but I count him as a mentor.
If you want to go beyond Hallelujah, I have a suggestion. Find a copy of Alexandra Leaving ( from Ten New Songs) and listen to it repeatedly, asking yourself, “Who is speaking? Who is this man, and what is the woman to him?” Make it your personal koan.
If, after repeatedly listenings, you decide Leonard Cohen isn’t for you, fair enough. You will have saved yourself a lot of heart ache.
And missed a lot of joy.